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High CO2 levels hamper nitrate incorporation by plants

Rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that are associated with global warming can interfere with plants' ability to incorporate certain forms of nitrogen, dramatically altering the plant life worldwide and forcing significant changes in agricultural fertilizer use, according to a plant physiologist at the University of California, Davis.

These findings will be reported by lead author Arnold Bloom and colleagues in the Feb. 5 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's been known for some time that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere initially boost carbon intake and growth in plants but eventually the accelerated carbon assimilation declines," said Bloom, a professor in the UC Davis vegetable crops department. "The results from our study indicate that carbon dioxide inhibition of nitrate assimilation contributes to this phenomenon and suggest two physiological mechanisms that may be responsible."

Atmospheric monitoring since 1800 indicates that carbon dioxide concentrations have risen by more than 30 percent during the past two centuries. For many years, scientists believed these rising levels of carbon dioxide would actually benefit plants because carbon dioxide is one of the essential ingredients in photosynthesis, the process by which green plants use sunlight to manufacture the chemical energy they need.

Further study, however, revealed that the accelerated rate of carbon dioxide assimilation wasn't sustained. In laboratory experiments, plants initially responded to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by assimilating 30 percent more carbon. But within a few days or weeks, this accelerated rate of carbon processing dropped back to just 12 percent greater than normal.

Against that backdrop, Bloom and colleagues have been studying how crop plants respond to being fertilized with two different forms of nitrogen: nitrate and ammonium. Nitrogen is an element that
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Contact: Patricia Bailey
pjbailey@ucdavis.edu
530-752-9843
University of California - Davis
4-Feb-2002


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